Mission Statement:  Tools for Schools Africa Foundation works to improve the quality of life in the
Northern Region of Ghana by enhancing educational opportunity and access to post primary education.

2008 DAMONGO PROJECT OVERVIEW

Tools for Schools Africa Foundation was incorporated in Alberta in April, 2008.

In July of 2008 a team of five Alberta educators traveled to Damongo, offering the additional teacher training requested on our last visit. Four sessions of three days each offered new ideas and resources to the 350+ teachers attending.

teachers

L to R: Adrianna (conference organizer) Jean Mudd, Laz, Marilyn P, Marilyn G, Charles, Cathy and Doug Sather

Each day started with a keynote address. Teachers then broke into smaller groups of about thirty. Sessions specialized in the teaching of English, Math and Science at various grade levels, addressing teaching methodologies as well as curriculum content. The conference organizer was Adrianne Billie, shown on the left.

village

This is a typical village on the road between Damongo and Tamale.

Most of our scholarship girls are from villages such as this.

CONTRIBUTORS

We wish to thank the volunteer teaching staff who donated their time and paid their own expenses to teach in Damongo. Thank you also to conference organizers headed by Adrianna Billie.

teachers graduate

Teachers graduate

Funds donated purchased over $22,000 of books which were distributed to Northern Region teachers. They included manuals on how to teach English, Math and Science. The Rotary Club of Edmonton South, Debbie Weiers and the Alberta Teachers Association were major supporters. We wish to acknowledge donations from Scott Builders, Loretta Mykytyshyn, Tisdale County Enterprises, Dick Huddleston, Gail Wilson and her grandchildren, Jennifer Stange, Ron & Mary Fath, Les Filles de Jesus and Ralph & Phyllis Ward. Many individuals bought manuals and included a message of good wishes inside the front cover. The teachers were very touched by these acts of caring and generosity. Thanks also to Kathy Knowles who sold us books at cost and to MacMillan International who shipped books directly from London to Accra.

We also set up a scholarship selection committee and began selecting girls who needed help to continue attending junior high and senior high school. The scholarships were in the amount of $180 to $800 per year, and were mostly funded by smaller donations and the Community Initiatives Program (Wild Rose). In some cases the scholarship included room and board.


TRAVEL JOURNAL 2008

November 19, 2008

Dear Friends,

It was only with your kind help that we were able to successfully complete the 2008 summer project in Damongo.

teaching group in traditional smocks

Teaching group in traditional smocks

It was great to be back in Ghana and we so enjoyed visiting with old friends, and meeting new ones. Altogether the Tools for Schools Africa team worked with about 350 teachers. That was a few less than we had anticipated, but the invitations to the teachers in the Tuna district got hung up on a desk and did not get delivered. As a result we were short about 40 teachers from that area, but we were still able to send teaching manuals to them.

The three new Canadian teachers on our team found working with Ghanaian teachers to be a life altering experience. It is easy to take for granted the resources we have in Canadian schools, and the level to which our schools are funded.

We were thanked with hand woven and sewn traditional smocks which we wear with pride.

August 15, 2008

Well here we are at the coast and three days away from departure from Ghana! The trip has been excellent although not without some adventures and misadventures. Most recently we had a challenge as our driver lost our only vehicle key in Kumasi. He felt very badly about it but the key was never found, so he called in a ''key expert''. A fellow arrived carrying a pink plastic bag from some lady''s fashions store with a couple things sticking out. The tools ended up being a coat hanger, a ballpeen hammer and two straight edged screwdrivers. Soon the dash was totally dismantled and he proceeded to pound away on the ignition with the hammer. I was narrow minded enough to think the dash might never go back together and could not see any way that this was going to solve our key problem, so I called a halt to it, and phoned Laz in Damongo. They had another key there so he sent Charles, a driver, down on the bus with it. The unfortunate part was that there was no room for us at the guest house the second night, so we had to find other accommodation which ended up being fine as we had HOT WATER for the first time since we left home. What a luxury a warm shower is!!

Twenty four hours after the key was lost we headed out once more, and here we are at the coast. We want Jean to see Elmina Castle, the first big slaving fort along the Gulf of Guinea coast, one of 60. It was built in 1492 by the Portuguese.

slave fort

Slave fort

Thirty of those forts were in Ghana and about 5,000 slaves a year from Ghana were shipped out over centuries. So we will visit Elmina tomorrow and work our way east, ending up in Accra on Sunday evening. We fly out on Monday. Thanks to the many of you who have participated in this venture and/or followed our travels, and a special thanks to our webmaster Sandy Stepien who has again done another fabulous job of keeping you all informed. Thanks so much, Sandy. We really value what you do!

As for us, over the next few months we will be trying to get the financial records in order, and will be starting some fundraising ventures for the future. If you are interested in doing some African batiking or working with us in other fundraising ventures, contact Sandy through the website. We have set up the scholarship committee and hope to have twelve girls funded for this fall term. We are also bringing back a funding proposal for the expansion of the boarding house, a VERY needed project, so if you know of any groups wanting to work toward an African project, we invite any and all to join in this venture.

That''s all for today, folks! Thanks again to all of you who kept us abreast of the local happenings at home. We will be arriving home with our pockets full of African beads - you will not be surprised to know MG had a big part in that. In fact we even bought enough beads to send some back to the jewelry maker in Damongo. Cheers for now,

Marilyn P

August 09, 2008

The time here has flown. We spent the last three days working with a girls sewing group here in Damongo. They are girls who have not completed junior high for one reason or another so do not know much English, but are great girls to work with. The first day we did tie-dying with them; the second day batiking, and then the third day and this morning worked with them to do acrylic painting on fabric and designing handbags that might be salable in the market or to the tourists.

sewing class

Sewing Class

They were most enthusiastic. The project is sponsored by a Catholic ladies group from Austria, so when the girls complete the program successfully they get to keep the sewing machine. That is a huge incentive and a great way for them to be able to earn a bit of a living. The school is presently working on an order for 102 school uniforms for a smaller high school farther west. The other school supplies the fabric, and the Damongo girls make the uniforms at a charge of $1 per uniform. You see how far our money can go here. Marilyn G did a terrific job of heading up this project, and it was well received indeed.

sewing class

Sewing Class students

So now we are done ALL our teaching, but I still have not been successful in interviewing any old people. Mahama has not been able to get any time off as they have been madly building roads and houses for the anti-poaching crews, and the government officials came yesterday to inspect the work they have been doing for months. If it was not up to standard I think perhaps they were not being paid for it or at least the contract would not be extended, so it was a tense time. Today he phoned to say that all the work was very satisfactory and everyone was happy, so I think he is now done. We are heading south on Tuesday morning, so have Sunday and Monday left to tie up loose ends.

Today we had a meeting with Laz and Gabriella and Mary from the Vocational High school. The purpose was to set up a board to administer the scholarships. We decided to attempt to fund twelve girls, three at the Boarding House (junior high) three at St Anne''s high school, three at the vocational school and three at Damongo Secondary. So we will try to get that happening to fund some girls for the September term.

I have to tell you about my very eventful birthday! Mahama invited us over for a supper of fried chicken and macaroni salad which was cooked by his sister in law and was very delicious. He also invited over thirty or so Gonja involved in the drumming and dancing group, and they performed for us for a generous half hour. I enjoyed it so much and have some fairly good video footage that I promised I would get up on the web as soon as possible. They are very pleased to have their culture seen. Anyway, it was a great time and a birthday I will never forget! Darn, I wish I could get some pictures out!

marilyn and group

Marilyn P with a group

As for my technology crapping out, I have to tell you what a smart brother I have. I phoned Dennis and mentioned I had computer power problems. He told me to clean the two small gold pins where the cord plugs in. I checked that connection only to find that a bug had crawled into that very spot and had been there when I connected I guess. Anyway, I had black gummy bug guts in the connection. It was not surprising the battery was not charging. So Dennis did very fine trouble shooting from ten thousand miles away, and now I have fine power (I sacrificed my one and only toothbrush for this; bleaching it after computer use!)

We have spent a lot of time laughing here. Laz is quite a card, and MG and I are not beyond a good laugh. Jean can hold her own so we are usually good for a belly laugh at least once a day. Also we often run into teachers on the street that thank us. Last night we were having a shandy when the principal of a small school 8 km from town dropped by. He was talking about how much he and his four teachers enjoyed the session. I asked about the students who had completed grade six. He said he has arranged for them to go to the Canteen school, so they walk 8 km each way every day, leaving home at 5:30 in the morning. A few of the girls were given bikes, but the rest are all walking. As well, he has a fine teacher on staff who has taught for five years, but who has not been paid in that time although he is trying to educate three children of his own. He has asked the community to give some small money to him if they are able, but they say that they need the children in the fields and are already sacrificing to let them come, so why should they give more. These kinds of problems are ones we do not have to face.

Time to go for dinner I guess. Tomorrow and Monday are already filling up with business that has to be wound up. As well we are bringing back a proposal for the building of a new dormitory at the Boarding House, a very worthwhile and incredibly needed project. I hope I can find a group in the Central Alberta area that might be willing to take it on. It came in at just over $50,000, complete with dorms, study hall and new bathrooms which are desperately needed.

Hope you are all well. Thank you for the news from home as I have gotten several messages after my whining.....take care and see you soon. We may get one more message out from the coast but that will likely be it before we are home.

All for now,

Marilyn P

August 03, 2008

Greetings from Tamale!! We are visiting the big lights (the capital of the Northern Region) as we have brought Cathy and Doug into the plane as they are off on their East Africa safari. They flew out on Thursday morning but we have stayed around for a couple days for a change in the sights and the food. Last night we had a very good pizza! We are at the Catholic Guest House which is not luxurious but perfectly adequate, much the same as Damongo with cement floors and walls, but Tamale has AC! We spent one evening with Frank and Nancy Cosway, Canadians from Winnipeg who were a great help in getting the paper supplies for the teaching seminars. We were having dinner together when a 'monsoon' hit, so all of us piled into the back of Nancy's vehicle and she generously gave us a ride home. The next morning Frank arranged a meeting with three of the Tamale Rotarians. We were very pleased to make their acquaintance and hope that we may work with them in the future.

Friday we drove north to the Burkina Faso border. The purpose of the trip was twofold: to check out the wonderful grass baskets made in the Bolga area, and to visit the crocodile pond at Paga. Both were great successes. I walked into one shop and saw the basket of my dreams as did MG so now we have to figure out how to fit them into the luggage. Jean was smarter and bought a couple smaller items. The crocs appeared on schedule, much more cooperative than the hippos were on the Black Volta. We never did see them although we had a great day canoeing on the Black Volta in a rough hewn hand made mahogany boat.

Travel here has become 'African' style. Word seems to get around where we are traveling, and before we leave there are many requests for people to send things or to occupy any available seats. When we went up to Wa we had a passenger for Tuna, a passenger for Wa, a bag for Sawla, a bag for Tuna and a request to pick up letters in Wa. As we were ready to pull out for Tamale, a girl magically appeared requiring a ride to Tamale. I guess it just makes sense as transport is quite costly and often uncomfortable.

We were walking down the road from the guest house the other day and came across a goodly sized scorpion. Luckily he had already been flattened by a vehicle. He was about five or so inches long. I have threatened to dig him out and put him in my journal, but I'm not sure he is yet flat enough for that! We have not seen any cousins in the shower this time, which suits us just fine. The flying ants are back after every rainstorm. There has to be a use for pails of ant wings, but I haven't thought of it yet!

Marilyn

August 03, 2008

(Written by Marilyn Ganger on Aug 3, 2008 but not rec''d until Aug. 9)

We are in Tamale for the weekend so finally got to the internet. Yesterday we took a tour of some of the villages around here. We visited the homes of a potter, an older woman who learned the trade from her mother and who now does it for a living and to keep the craft alive. The next one was the spinner. She sat there hour after hour spinning cotton into thread/yarn so that it could be woven into strips and then after the strips were sewn together she had a large piece of cloth. For 11/2 months of work she earned about $2 for a large ball of yarn. The third place was the shea butter production area. The shea fruits are picked from the trees, the nut removed, boiled, shell removed, ground, soaked and then the kneading begins until the butter separates from the water. Then the butter is heated until the oil rises to the top. This becomes the substance that is used for lotions and cosmetics. The process is long and hard work, but last year the prices were very good.

The housing area is called the compound. Inside this walled area there will be a variety of homes. The square houses are for the married males in the family while the round mud huts are for the wives-as many as four in a Muslim family-and their children.

The whole village was peaceful with many children running in and out of the compounds following the Broonies (white people) and posing for pictures. I have many pictures of the children, but most are not smiling, guess that is not the way to pose.

Well, the teaching is finished for the most part, but we will be working with the twelve girls at the sewing school to teach them a few quilt patterns and the making of bags for sale to the tourists. We start on Wed at the school to "help" in tie dying fabric. This is a learning experience for us.

We stopped to see the crocodiles at the crocodile pond, another innovative way that they can get more money into the hands of those that really need it. First you have to buy three chickens so that the men can control the crocs. Our guards are heavily armed with a chicken and a big stick to face the 180 crocs that live in the pond, the largest being ten feet long. They call out the crocs and many come, including the big guy. They feed one and chase all but the biggest away and get him to sit down. Then they call over our driver to sit on the back of big guy so we could take pictures. Next we all take our turns at sitting and touching this monster, and we did it. Go figure.

There I am crouched over his back and thoughts of Steve Irwin come to mind. There was no way that our scrawny guys could have wrestled any one of us out of the grasp of any crocodile let alone this one. Good thing the crocs like chicken more that white people. Must admit, that when Jean got close to him, I was hoping that he didn''t mistake her for a chicken, she is very small!

With this project we all learned many things and had new experiences. Needless to say the teaching and working with our Ghanaian colleagues was the highlight of our workshop. We worked with many from a wide distance, many who had to struggle to get there. The responses were very positive and those that we talked to after the sessions were most grateful for the help.

We have seen the Space Lab and the Big Dipper -the magnitude of the stars on a clear night is unbelievable. Another thing we noticed is that there are no planes flying overhead because Damongo has no airport and is out of line of any flight patterns.

Today we return to Damongo.

July 23, 2008

I have written and lost this blog entry three times. I’ve always believed even numbers to be luckier than odd numbers so we will go for four times and cross our fingers. Actually the electricity has been much more reliable this visit and we usually have electricity 24 hours a day. Having a fan at night is often a blessing as the heat is heavy with moisture, and just having the air moving is wonderful. We had a rainstorm yesterday, the equivalent of which you have likely seen on TV as monsoons. I have some very good video footage shot out the front door. No wonder the foliage is so lush this time of year!

walking safari

Walking safari at Mole Game Reserve with Francis, our guide. L to R: Jean, Cathy, Marilyn G, Marilyn P, Doug.

elephants

Elephants on the reserve

Luckily we started the day early yesterday with a sunrise safari walk in the Mole Game Reserve, which is about 25 km. west. We saw an amazing number of animals, and although I have taken pictures of elephants in a number of countries, I have never had shots like these.Truly amazing, an experience that will remain with us for a lifetime.

The teaching sessions are going well. The first two sessions were big numbers but we are now teaching the third to smaller groups which is both a disappointment and a blessing. The letters of invitation got stuck on a desk for half this group, so we are half sized for this session. The teachers make in enthusiasm what they lack in numbers. We had barely gotten a bite eaten at lunch when they asked when we would be continuing in the classrooms, and at the end of the day they didn't want to finish. Some evenings we shut off the lights to get them to end the working day.

keynote address

Keynote Address first thing each morning

Last night we showed the BBC documentary Pole to Pole, a video showing an overview of life on the planet from the north to south poles, including polar bears, penguins as well as both temperate/tropical flora and fauna. They were enthralled with 'pole bears' and wanted to know what was in the background (snow). It showed a mother with two cubs coming out of her den and going to the ice flows to hunt seals. I explained that there was water under the ice and that she was going fishing. They nodded and ask the logical question: When she goes down into her den, is her home then in the water?

We are so enjoying this group and we know you would be thrilled if you could see the faces of the teachers when they realize they will be allowed to take their teaching manuals home. Once again we thank you for helping that to happen.

All is well with us although Cathy's energy levels are not her usual. Doug is covering part of her teaching time and it is working out fine, but we are giving her breaks when we can. The schedule was pretty rigorous when we first got here as we had to sort the shipments of books and paper supplies, and I think she is feeling that. I am fine now that I have won the battle of ants in my shower. We had an influx of flying ants that left drifts of wings in the hallways. I stomped them in my shower and tried to wash them down the drain but only succeeded in plugging it. Now I have it running free again.

We are all craving a fresh salad and fresh vegetables, but are enjoying fresh fruit in their place.

We are anxious to hear news from home, so drop us a line when you can. All for today.

Marilyn P.

July 20, 2008

You likely thought we had disappeared from the face of the earth, but we are here in Damongo and doing well. It is just that we have not had any internet to get a blog off to you.

As usual, it was like stepping into a steamy bathroom when we got off the plane. Doug and Cathy were in Accra a few days before us and did a pile of work including picking up books from Kathy Knowles Library, checking the book order at MacMillan International and buying us a cell phone. After a day and a half in Accra, we headed north to Tamale where we overnighted.

loading truck

The truck being loaded before heading north. Sule is in the red shirt.

The trip north from Kumasi was fairly round-about. Our driver told us there are so many funerals on the main highway on a Saturdays that it is impossible to make time, so we went west to Sunyani and then north to Techiman and Buipe. We stopped for a break at Kintempo Falls, and the cool mist of the water tumbling down the sheer face of rock was welcome. We headed on, and arrived at Damongo about suppertime.

kintempo falls

Visiting Kintempo Falls

The north is as lush and green as the south as the rains have been good this year, quite a stark difference from the dry, brittle brown that we last saw when we left in February of 2007. The cattle are looking fat and happy (also a significant change) and it is the season for serious work. People are planting crops and there is a lot of firewood to be found now, so it is being stockpiled beside the huts. Other than the greenness, there are not that many changes. There are more cell phones, and quite a lot of new building. It appears that the economy is healthier than it was before, at least in the south.

teachers arriving

Teachers arriving for the second session

Oh yes, one significant change in the north is that the schools finally have a few government issued text books, and that is very welcome.

We have completed our first two teacher training sessions. The first had 107 teachers attending and the second 119.

registration sign in

Signing in at the registration desk

They walked from their village to the river, canoed across the river, got public transport to Tamale and then all the way to Damongo. We will not be moving to the west for the second two sessions but staying put in Damongo, and the teachers from the west are coming to us.

teachers learning at math breakout session

Teachers learn how to make and play a fraction/decimal game in Cathy’s math break-out session.

The organization on the ground has been superb. Laz sent a truck to the coast and picked up all the books for us, and sent a bus and driver for us as well. Father Charles went to Tamale and got all the paper supplies we had ordered for the teachers, so everything has worked out well. The poor girls in the kitchen were working so hard trying to feed 120 or so people at a time that we agreed to pay the salary of a fourth girl. It is pretty difficult cooking for that many in large pots over a wood fire outside the back door!

cooking over a fire with a big pot

Cooking with a big pot

The wet season has brought out a wide variety of creepy, crawly and flying friends. The mosquitoes want to carry us off and I cover my exposed body parts with Deet before I put clothes on. It's a great combination once a little dirt and a lot of sweat are mixed in! Doug and I are sharing teaching space in a small hall; Jean and Cathy are sharing in the large hall, and Marilyn G, being a good Catholic, gets the chapel. Doug and I have a temperamental air conditioner that works when it feels like it. Doug started it up the other day and it made a variety of unusual noises, then a gecko without a tail exited the front panel!

A caretaker here named Peter has helped us so much, especially with registration. He was very hungry the other day and so went downtown for food. On his return he proudly displayed his fabulous meal: a rabbit head, complete with skull and teeth and cut off ears, in a tray of rice. It wasn't something I asked to share.

Stay well everyone! We love to hear news from home, and we will blog again when we can. I am going to reconfigure my laptop and try to send some pictures within the next couple days.

Over and out,

Marilyn P.

July 8, 2008

- Project team leaves for Ghana.